Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Session 2003-04
30 January 2004 Cetacean by-catch

30 January 2004 Cetacean by-catch
Report recommends sea bass fishery closure

Today, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has published a report about by-catch of dolphins and porpoises off the UK coast. The report looks at the incidental capture of dolphins and porpoises in fishing gear in UK waters. Worldwide, by-catch is thought to be the most significant threat to the conservation of dolphins and porpoises.

The Committee recommends that, if the Government does not succeed in reducing by-catch of dolphins in the pelagic (mid-water) trawl fishery for sea bass to an acceptable level within two fishing seasons, then the Government should act to have the fishery closed. The fishery could be closed if the Government were to make a formal request to the European Commission, asking it to impose emergency measures.

The Committee's other main conclusions are:

  • Pingers should be made mandatory on all bottom-set gill nets in the Celtic Sea, regardless of the distance of the fishery from the coast. The Committee is extremely concerned that the Government's proposal to make pingers compulsory only on bottom-set gill nets that are at least six nautical miles from the Celtic Sea coast could create an incentive for fishermen to set more nets in inshore waters, thus increasing by-catch in these waters.

  • The Government should act to reduce by-catch of porpoises in set gill nets used in the English Channel, rather than focussing only on by-catch in the Celtic and North Seas. The Committee considers that it is short-sighted of the Government to propose no action to mitigate by-catch in the English Channel, given that it is "the most intensively gill netted area of waters around Britain".

  • The Government should move quickly to set up long-term observer monitoring programmes for pelagic fisheries other than the sea bass fishery, such as those for mackerel, horse mackerel and tuna. The Committee received evidence of dolphin by-catch in other pelagic fisheries and is concerned that the Government has not properly taken this evidence into account.

  • The introduction of a cetacean mortality scheme at European level, particularly in respect of the sea bass fishery, could provide a long-term management solution for fisheries. Under such a scheme, a fishery would be allowed a certain annual level of by-catch but, once that level was reached, the fishery would be closed.



The report follows an inquiry conducted in November and December 2003. The inquiry was announced in our press notice of 17 July 2003 (available on our website). The Committee appointed a Sub-Committee to conduct the inquiry, under the chairmanship of Ms Candy Atherton MP.

The Committee received written evidence from a number of interested parties. It took oral evidence from Nick Tregenza, an academic from south-west England studying cetacean by-catch in that area; the Association of Sea Fisheries Committees; the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and The Wildlife Trusts; the National Association of Fishermen's Organisations; Linda Hingley, a Devon resident who has set up an organisation, Brixham Seawatch, to record cetacean strandings on the south-west coast; and the Minister for Nature Conservation and Fisheries, Ben Bradshaw MP.

The full report will be available on our website from around 3.30 pm on 30 January. Members of the media who wish to interview the Chairman of the Sub-committee, Candy Atherton MP, or who require further information are asked to call 020 7219 2735.

Website: http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/environment__food_and_rural_affairs.cfm